Hillary’s Dien Bien Phu

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The Author in 1954 – or His Ghost

by Michael Gallagher

This morning it looks like super-hawk Hillary—kisser-up-supreme of four starrers—is well on her way to becoming President of the United States.  If she succeeds, I am sure they will break out the best wine at the Pentagon. (Though to the discomfiture of those unhappy few generals and admirals with a sound liberal education.)

In the spring of 1954 when the Viet Minh were on the verge of overrunning the French forces at Dien Bien Phu, I was a PFC in the 187th Airborne stationed in Southern Japan, the only airborne unit in Southeast Asia.

If Hillary (or W) had been president instead of Ike, who had reason not to take war lightly, the 187th would have jumped into Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam War would have begun a decade earlier… and I probably would not have had to cope with the rigors of old age.

One of the elements that would have ensured disaster—beside all that borrowed Chinese artillery that the Vietminh had somehow managed to haul up the hills surrounding the French fortifications—was the irony of our commander being none other than Brigadier General William Westmoreland. An even more exquisite irony would have been my falling gallantly at the side of a grizzled veteran of the Waffen SS who had escaped a firing squad by joining the Foreign Legion—thus enabling us to die together for the Glory of France. No matter that Harry and Nellie Gallagher back in Cleveland, Ohio, would not have thought the Glory of France was worth the price of an only son.

John Foster Dulles, incidentally was all for pulling the French chestnuts out of the fire.  He assured Ike that Cardinal Spellman would rally the Catholics of America to the support of any crusade against Communism. But Ike, the story goes, was intent on lining up a putt, and he said to hell with it. So Spellman had to wait another dozen years to be photographed in Vietnam with his pudgy little hand on the stock of a machine gun as he quoted, not Jesus, but Stephen Decatur: “My country, right or wrong.”

11 thoughts on “Hillary’s Dien Bien Phu

  1. Actually, it was the good old-fashioned bicycle that allowed the anti-colonial forces to haul those artillery pieces bit by bit up those hills, to be reassembled once at their firing stations. In his otherwise excellent book, “Hell In A Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu,” Bernard Fall derogatorily refers to these bike-pushers as “coolie labor.” But that’s what a war for liberation is all about–the self-appointed Master Race getting its just comeuppance at the hands of those they have looked down upon as sub-human dirt. Of course the French quickly followed their defeat in Viet Nam with the debacle of their defeat in Algeria, setting a dandy example that the US continues to follow, lurching from one defeat or at best, stalemate, to another. Well, you know what they say about those who fail to learn from history…

  2. The British convert to Catholicism, G. K. Chesterton, would say of Cardinal Spellman’s war-sanctifying nationalism: “My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.” — G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant

    As I wrote in a poem somewhere years ago:

    “My country, right or wrong,” they cry
    Within an eyelash blink.
    “My mother, drunk or sober,” say
    The ones who’ve stopped to think.
    You don’t give mom the car keys when
    She’s had too much to drink.

    Handing the keys of the U.S. Government car to a power-drunk, hothouse-orchid mom like You-Know-Her does not portend secure passage on the roads and highways of this world.

  3. Right on Michael !.
    In addition the Democratic Party establishment is under the misapprehension that “you know her” will be a shoe in against “you know who” if she is the nominee.

    Today Trump announced that he can win in the general election ” without a unified Republican Party”.. I don’t think he is whistling in Dixie. As bad as he is he is wily and if one examines his policy positions carefully he has taken stands on trade deals, Saudi Arabia, aggressive wars that are far to the left of Clinton. Yes he wavers and his positions are very fluid but he has just signaled that as a candidate he is not going to sing to the bedrock Republican social and economic issues that secure the votes of the Republican base. He can go head to head on trade with Clinton and win on trade deals, Saudi Arabia, etc and easily outflank her and her usual smirky responses. With both their negatives quite high his histrionics can easily win
    him a plurality. .

    • “You know her” presents herself as a Policy Wonk. (I don’t care for the term “wonk” personally, but as it’s well embedded in the vernacular, I’ll use it.) The Donald is truly the proverbial bull in a china shop. I’m sure he has a brain trust assembling scripted positions on foreign policy, etc. for him, but when he gets behind a microphone he tends to just extemporize and play to his own base, whose members are not terribly intellectual. * “You know her” is correct in labeling him “a loose cannon.” Trump has essentially vowed to make all the other nations on Earth bow to US military power, which he won’t hesitate to employ (or so he hints–just bluster?). I can’t abide describing any of his stances as “left” of Madam Clinton, who herself, of course, is not one nanometer to the “left”! But I do agree that “President Trump” is a very real possibility. H.L. Mencken’s Boobus Americanus never went away, he simply had his name changed to Joe Six-Pack. Joe has never really read or understood the United States Constitution, but he “knows” in his heart that “You know her” wants to take his guns away and THAT’S BAD!! And The Donald, on the campaign stump just yesterday, was assuring Joe that that’s in her game plan. The US’s new National Motto should be APOCALYPSE NOW…WHY PUT IT OFF?

      * Does this observation paint its author as “an elitist”? I’ll take my chances.

    • For some reason, I went to my library shelves the other day and retrieved a copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, by the late great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. I suppose the impending rat race between You-Know-Her (because everyone does) and All-About-Him (because everything is) drove me to make certain connections between then and now, especially since someone recently compared You-Know-Her to “Richard Nixon without the progressive social policies.” Ouch! But how awfully true. As Hunter Thompson described the scene:

      “Compared to the Democratic Convention five weeks earlier, the Nixon celebration was an ugly, low-level trip that hovered somewhere in that grim indefinable limbo between dullness and obscenity — like a bad pornographic film that you want to walk out on, but sit through anyway and then leave the theater feeling depressed and vaguely embarrassed with yourself for ever having taken part in it, even as a spectator. …”

      “… The pervasive sense of gloom among the press/media crowd in Miami was only slightly less obvious than the gung-ho, breast beating arrogance of the Nixon delegates themselves. That was the real story of the convention: the strident, loutish confidence of the whole GOP machinery, from top to bottom….”

      The “whole GOP machinery” might seem rather confused, conflicted, and hardly confident at the moment, but given the predictable amnesia that a few summer months will no doubt induce in the American electorate, I wouldn’t want to bet against a return of the usual “strident, loutish confidence, from top to bottom” — probably at both the Republican and Democratic party conventions this year. Yet somehow I can’t help remembering Henry Kissinger publicly touting “Peace is at hand” in October while Richard Nixon seethed in frustration, secretly planning all the while to unleash “Operation Linebacker” at Christmas, after the elections, because, as he savagely put the case: “The [North Vietnamese] bastards have never been bombed like they’re going to be bombed this time.”

      With all this in mind, I caution that — whatever cheesy, over-choreographed performance we see mercilessly beamed at our glowing TV (and cell-phone) screens by You-Know-Her and All-About-Him — the awful truth of what they really have in mind but will never publicly admit should fill us all with Fear and Loathing, from 2016 to ….

      • Yes, it is dispiriting. But at least in ’72 you could vote for McGovern, which my home state, Massachusetts, proudly did. After Watergate, a popular bumper sticker in Mass. said something like “Don’t blame us … we voted against Nixon.”

        Trump versus Clinton. Talk about a “choice.” I may just have to write-in Bernie Sanders. At least he’s a decent and honest man.

      • Bernie supporters may raise some kind of hoopla on the convention floor in Philly, but I really can’t see myself watching more than a few minutes of the media coverage of that affair! (Normally I watch very, very little of this quadrennial depressing stuff anyway.) Though I will loathe what I hear coming from the speaker’s platform at the GOP zoo in Cleveland, I expect whatever real fireworks there may be to happen there…unless the “Anyone But Trump” movement has become so demoralized by then that the event is nothing but a love-in for The Donald. Perish the thought!!

    • Bill, enjoyed–in a masochistic way–your piece on Trump. It makes a lot of sense. When I wrote above that Hillary was on her way to be president, I was assuming that the American people were not quite moronic enough to elect Trump. Now I’m not so sure.

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